Going back in time

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, April 14, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - If you stop at the corner of Pokagon Road and M-140, it might feel like you've just stepped back in time to the days when horses and buggies were the mode of transportation.
However, while you're not likely to see any buggies, you will be able to see a little white church that has seen its share of them over the years.
The old Union Church has stood on that spot since 1857. On Feb. 5 of that year, a constitution was established to "erect there - a Union Church or house of worship."
By May 14, the deed for two acres of land at the cost of $50 was given by Zera Wright and his wife, Eliza. The Wrights had already donated the land for the surrounding cemetery prior to that. On May 25, a contract was made with H.Q. Rugg of Niles to "erect, build, and finish (except for painting) in good substantial and workman-like manner, a wood church."
The outside of the building was to be covered with siding and the roof, with wood shingles.
The cost of the church was $1,325.
Originally from Chicago, when Jeanette married Fred E. Young, she came to live with him in his hometown of Niles. "He lived and died just a few miles from this church," Young said.
She added, "My mom died when I was a teenager. My father often spoke about this wonderful young man he had met."
The young man's mother began inviting the father and daughter over for occasional meals and the rest is history, as they say.
Young joined the Ladies Aid group at the church in 1952 after an invitation from her mother-in-law and has been a member ever since.
To generate interest in reviving the women's organization, Young said, "I wrote letters to all the families who have a relative buried in the cemetery here, but I never got one answer from any of them. "
Young and her fellow members have helped keep the church going, doing the cleaning and small repairs when they can.
And Young has passionately found ways to raise money for its upkeep as well.
One of her projects was to compile a booklet about the church's history and fill it with photos and letters from the past. The booklet is titled, "Union Church and Cemetery, an Historical Accounting 2001."
The following paragraphs contain excerpts from the book.
In the early years of the church, ladies held annual ice cream and strawberry socials in June. They made the ice cream from scratch, using the old hand-cranked canisters filled with ice and salt to freeze the dessert.
Another memory written about by an early member happened on Decoration Day.
Young said there have only been two break-ins she knows of in the church's long history.
Eventually the church acquired electricity, but one of the members recalled the lighting prior to that.
The Ladies Aid group continued on long after the last worship service in 1915.
Their job was to preserve both the church and its memories for the families whose lives had been touched by the place.
Young enjoys relating stories about the life and times of church community. According to her, there was a blizzard one winter. One of the farmers hooked his horse up to the wagon and drove it to each neighbor's home where he picked up a wagon full of family members. After bringing them to his home, he'd go on to the next home for more.
Once everyone was accounted for, they made gingerbread, popped popcorn, and made hot chocolate. The kids played and a good time was had by all. When the storm blew itself out, the farmer took everyone home.
In a 1957 Centennial pamphlet, Dr. Hazel Eidson, a former Ladies Aid member, wrote, "Through the years the Aid has paid premiums on fire and windstorm insurance, given flowers to members and families in sickness and death, donated to the Red Cross and other worthy causes, bought gifts at Christmas for veterans and the lady inmates of the county house. They have always stood ready to help in any emergency."
The letter continued, "As long as the church stands, the Ladies Aid will work to keep the memories and the history of the church alive in the descendants of its founders." And that's exactly what they are tirelessly still doing … all three of them.
The Union Church and Cemetery's Annual Memorial Day Ceremony will be held on May 30 this year and will include flags placed on all the graves, a color guard from the Eau Claire American Legion, and a speech by a special guest.
Speakers in the past have included Congressman Fred Upton. A gun salute is given, taps are played, and a potluck dinner follows.
Last year approximately 47 people attended the ceremony.
The time will be announced the first week in May for those wishing to join the remembrance.